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Robert Caro Education. (2012) The 2012 National Book Festival Robert Caro, 'The Passage of Power The Years of Lyndon Johnson.' New.

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Johnson 50, Lyndon Johnson 41, Robert Kennedy 11, Kennedy 9, Youngblood 7, Washington 6, Texas 5, Dallas 4, Jackie 4, America 3, Jack Kennedy 3, Rufus Yarborough 3, Jacqueline Kennedy 3, Lbj 2, Vietnam 2, U.s. 2, South Texas 2, Nicholas Katzenbach 2, John Connally 2, Kenny O'donnell 2,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Robert Caro  Education.  (2012) The 2012 National Book  
   Festival Robert Caro, 'The Passage of Power The Years of Lyndon...  

    September 29, 2012
    4:30 - 5:15pm EDT  

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up to this day i said to myself it was just moments to think and this is what people went through back in the day and still going through if they don't catch them for get caught. but i said i got to survive this. my brothers and sisters survived the same thing. got to stay alive. stay alive because these -- you don't have time to think about that. you already know because you are being beaten by people who because of your color. ..merica,
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robert [applause] >> thank you. jim, thank you. that was such a wonderful introduction. in fact, it was such a wonderful introduction it reminds me of what johnson said when he got a nice introduction. he said he wished his parents were alive to hear it. [laughter] because his father would have loved it, and his mother would have believed it. [laughter] you know, when winston churchill was writing, he was asked how he was coming along, and he said,ce i'mst working on the 5th of the projected four volume. [laughter] well, i'm not comparing myselfof
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to wipe stone church hill, but with regard to the lyndon johnson biography, we're sort of in the same boat. i've been writing about johnson so long people askre me, don't u get bored? the answer is that the very opposite is true. one reason they are not about lyndon johnson, i never had the slightest interest in writing a book just to tell the life of a famous man. from the moment i first thoughte of doingrt books, i thought of i biographies -- i thought of biographies as a way of examining the great forces that shaped the times that they lived in, and particularly political power.he why is political power so important? y political power. why is political power so important? we live in a democracy. we have the power of the votes
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we cast that ballot boxes and the more we know about political power really works not as it is taught in textbooks and high school and college but to ignore naked reality of political power the better our votes should be and the better our countries should be and lyndon johnson is the right man to examine political power. he was such a genius in the use of it, to bend washington to his will, the political power produced in the second half of the 20th century is endlessly fascinating, to watch him use it, in this book i just published, "the passage of power," to see him step into the presidency where president kennedy was assassinated with no preparation at all after political scientists say the time between election day in november and inauguration day is
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11 weeks they are saying that is too short a time for a president to get ready. linda and some had two hours and 6 minutes from which he was sworn in on the plane on air force one and let's get airborne and landed in washington. he had to get off the plane ready to be president of the united states. to see him step in with no preparation at all at a time when president kennedy's entire legislative program, civil-rights and everyone of his major -- was stalled by the southern committee chairman who controlled congress, to see him get that program up and running and has it, ramming it through. to watch lyndon johnson do that in the first weeks after kennedy's assassination is a lesson in what a president can do if he not only knows all the levers to pull but has the will.
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in lyndon johnson's case almost vicious drive to do it, to win, to say over and over again as i am always saying to myself when i do the research look what he is doing. look what he is doing here. i don't say i succeeded but i tried to explain that in my books. to me, to see him doing that is something that is not only fascinating but revelatory given true insight into how power works in washington. there is another reason i don't get tired of doing these books on lyndon johnson. you are always learning something new. that goes even if what you are researching is something that has been written about a thousand or ten thousand times already as the case in the
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centerpiece of this book, the assassination of president kennedy in a motorcade in dallas on nov. 20 second, 1963. lyndon johnson was in that motorcade too. the first car, president kennedy and jackie were riding with john connally, governor of texas and his wife, once the sweetheart of the university of texas and still a very beautiful woman. the car behind them is a heavily armored secret service car with agents standing on the running boards and with automatic rifles down between the seats and the third car is lyndon johnson's car. he is writing in the back, right side. lady bird in the center and in the senator from texas on the left. in the front is a secret service man named rufus yarborough.
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johnson's cars in the motorcade of thousands of books have been written about the assassination. they concentrate on what happened to jack kennedy. not one went into detail in what i considered an adequate way, substantial detail about what was happening to lyndon johnson. what was happening from his point of view. the assassination had never been told from johnson's point of view. it came to me when i was doing this book that we have to do that. how do you do that? first you interview people who are still alive. john connolly himself is very helpful to me. he had this great ranch in south texas with a stable reporter horses. used to come to the guest house where i would say very early in the morning, 5:30 or 6:00 and sit on the top railing of the fence watching them exercise and
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he would tell me -- he answered almost every question i asked about johnson's career, took me through the assassination in great detail. one of the things he said was everybody thought when they heard the shot that was a motorcycle backfire or it was a balloon going off for a firecracker. but he said i was a hunter. i knew the instant i heard it that it was the crack of a hunting rifle. i talked to everyone who was with lyndon johnson in the hospital still alive, in boston with lyndon johnson. congressman jack brooks. lyndon johnson's devoted secretary, kennedy's secretary, they're always seemed to be other sources that have been overlooked.
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when i was doing this suddenly i came across a fact. a secret service regulations that if you were a member of the presidential or vice-presidential detail and there was an incident involving the president or vice president or the assassination was an incident, if there was an incident you had to at the first available opportunity type up a report with every detail you remember as chief of the secret service. i asked the secret service -- never got a reply but in the johnson library, forty-four million documents and i went to the chief archivist and said the there exist in this library those secret service reports and she said yes. and suddenly delivered to my desk 23 secret service men in
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that motorcade and also were involved in dallas that day. also a reports and they were bound in a volume that is called not a formal volume but a cardboard gray binding titled reports of the united states secret service on the assassination of president kennedy. from these reports you find out quite a lot. take the report of just one of them. special agent in charge of the vice-presidential detail through the secret service agent i mentioned the moment ago, rufus yarborough. he was riding in the front seat of johnson's car. you have to picture this. the motorcade is going through the crowded streets of dallas from every window in the office. people are leaning out. every time jack kennedy -- the crowd surges against the police and the car has to go slower and slower. when jackie smiles day surge
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even more enthusiastically. suddenly they are out of the main area and they turn into a sort of empty area called the league plaza. as they do there is a shark cracking sound. people thought was a firecracker, backfire of a motorcycle but john connally knows what it is. rufus yarborough did know. he hears the voice and what happened then in his report, there it is typed. status statement of rufus w. youngblood pleaded to the same about events occurring in dallas, taxes on november 22nd and in his testimony before the warren commission. he doesn't know what it is but he looks up and in kennedy's car
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which is two cars that had he sees what he calls in his report not normal movements. the president appears to be tilting to the left. we know now the poignant tragic reason that kennedy was tilting to the left was because although he had been hit by one shot he couldn't fall down because president kennedy had this terribly bad back and he wore a heavy corsets and on days like the dallas day where he knew he was going to have a long hard day, he would rather around his legs and his waist of bandage in a figure reconfiguration to give him extra support. when he was hit by the first shot he goes like this and staff hit by the second shot. youngblood sees not normal movement. the president children and at the same moment he sees an agent in the second car. the secret service car rising to
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his feet and grabbing his automatic rifle and looking around. he doesn't know for what. we know what youngblood does next. i wrote it this way. whirling in his seat youngblood shouted lady bird said he shouted in a voice i had never heard him use before get down, get down. grabbing johnson's right shoulder youngblood yanked him toward the floor in the center of the car as he almost leaped over the back of the front seat and threw his body of the vice president's body shouting again get down, get down. only a matter of eight seconds later that the next two shark reports had cracked out everyone knew what they were now. lyndon johnson was down on the floor in the back seat of the car curl over on his right side.
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the sudden loud shot -- short sound, hands grabbing the shoulder and pulling him down. now he was on the floor. his face on the floor with the weight of a big man lying on top of him pressing down, lyndon johnson would say he would never forget, his knees in my back and his elbows in my black ann youngblood lying on top of him to protect him and youngof blood is wearing a shortwave radio to keep him in communication with other cars and over this short wave radio crackling in johnson's year, what he is saying in the first two card is johnson here's he is hit and he begins to hear the word hospital. youngblood tells the driver of his car close it up because he knows his maximum protection is going to be close to that secret service car ahead of him.
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the driver of johnson's car is a texas highway patrolman and youngblood described him as a typical texan. laconic and tough. he puts the johnson car right behind the bumper of the secret service car as the three cars, kennedy's, secret service and johnson squeal of of a ramp and into the raft to the car from the hospital. youngbut as they are going says to johnson when we get to that hospital don't stop for anything. don't look around. don't stop. we are going to get you into some place eighth. the car stops and four agents sort of full johnson out of a car and run him off of the emergency room -- he doesn't have a chance to look around. his car is right next to kennedy's car. if he had a chance to look around he would have seen the president why not jackie's lap.
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they run him from the hospital looking through for a place they can protect. finally they come to something called the parkland hospital minor medicine section and there is a cubicle in the back. three cubicles. the first two are unoccupied and the third patient is being treated. he is puzzled out and they put johnson against the wall in the last cubical. youngblood and the bird is next to him and someone brings a chair and she sits down. youngblood is standing in front of them and never leave their side. the room between this room and the outer room there are two secret service agents and at the doorway -- am i doing that?
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i will try to talk over it. in the doorway is an agent and youngblood system don't let anyone pass you unless you personally know his face. so johnson is standing there for approximately 40 minutes. he doesn't know what has happened to president kennedy. he can't get any information. occasionally he sends somebody out. a couple of his aides have coming to try to get information and all they come back and say the doctors say they're working on the president. that is the only information he is giving them. johnson is standing against the back wall and after 40 minutes kenny o'donnell who is not only kennedy's appointments secretary but a man who really loved him and lady bird johnson wrote that he came through the door, she wrote seeing the face of kenny
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o'donnell who loved him, we knew. o'donnell says to johnson simply he is gone. a moment later another kennedy aide comes into the room and goes up to johnson and says mr. president. the first time he has ever been called that. what was lyndon johnson like during those 40 minutes when he is standing there against the back wall of the cubicle? quite striking. congressman bork's name in -- his aides who were there, wasn't really in the room but thought it was. they all use the same word youngblood used. calm. he was absolutely calm. they remember what bird was always saying about johnson and we have given to almost hysterical fits when he had a cold you would think he was dying of pneumonia but lady bird said in a tough spot he is a
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good man and lady bird said watching his face in that 40 minutes was like seeing the face of upgrade and bronze statue. very tough face. lips compressed ellis a snarl. we know that lyndon johnson look. absolutely calm. a minute that he addressed mr. president he starts to act like one. secret service agents come in and crowd around him and no one knows this isn't a conspiracy. remember it was only a year past the cuban missile crisis. wasn't just the president hit by a shot but the governor of texas. if youngblood had not thrown himself on top of lyndon johnson they would not know of the shot was intended for him. they didn't know if this was a conspiracy, international conspiracy or another kind of conspiracy. they said we have to get you out of here immediately. we're getting back to the plane and taking off for washington and securing you in the white
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house. johnson says no. i am not leaving until mrs. kennedy leaves with me so we can get her back to washington. they say she won't leave without her husband's body. johnson says we will go to the plane and wait for her and the body there. calm and decisive as if he had fought everything through at the moment. that scene on the plane when he gets into the plane also been described from his point of view. we all know the photograph of lyndon johnson standing with his hand up, jackie kennedy standing next to him, lady bird on the other side and the judge with the bible, hadn't been told from johnson's point of view and i wanted to do that. to do that i said i will talk to everyone who is alive who is still in that room. i talked to mary famer who was johnson's secretary. if you look at the iconic
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photograph behind the people you see the top of a young woman's curly black head. that is mary famer's far can she was checking johnson taking the oath of office to make sure the words are right. there was a reporter who left wonderful oral history. watching johnson takeover i had the kennedy's reports -- contempt for johnson when he was vice president. they called him rufus corn pone. the nickname fur lady bird was here comes uncle corn, and his fourth job. they have a contempt for him and the reporters like roberts at the washington post's i have only seen lyndon johnson as a colonel corn pone. i said it is going to be hard to think of him as president
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johnson. watching him take over some lee it wasn't hard at all. he is towering over the rim. he was always the biggest man in the room. i am trying to talk to everyone alive and i have forgotten some of them. can't imagine who i have forgotten. going over the faces. and it occurs to me that who i forgot was the photographer. the photographer's name was cecil south. he must be dead by this time. but i had my wife looked up in the national telephone directly there was cecil -- cecil southman living in florida, 89 years old. i called and his wife answered the phone and i said mrs. dowman, my name is robert caro and dry writing books about
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lyndon johnson. she says cecil has been waiting for you to call. [laughter and applause] >> those of you who read the book know that he provided a lot of other details. very fascinating details including the steadiness of johnson's hand. one hand was on the bible -- wasn't a tremor. he was absolutely calm. then there is the flight back. what was lyndon johnson doing on the flight back? seems incredible to me that with all the books that have been written they haven't gone into detail about that. it was quite a flight. and everybody's mind is was there a conspiracy? at every air force base along the route that air force one is going back to washington, fighter planes on the runway,
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their engines are running. the pilots are bolted into their seats and on the radar screens in the rate our shacks men are bent over radar screens watching to see if there is anything from air force one. in a thousand towns that air force one rolls across america flags are being lowered to half mast. church bells are starting to chime. new york city lights have been turned on in times square. one by one the lights go off. traffic. somebody stops his car. cars behind start to beat. someone comes out and asks -- he tells what happened. the news circulates from car to car so traffic -- a push cart can live. a hot dog pedlar sitting on a curb on broadway and someone gets out and says is it true?
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yes. he is dead. on fifth avenue, shop windows, salespeople come out in one store after another. take the mannequins out and put a photograph of president kennedy there. the church bells start to chime over the city. on the plane, there are three compartments. the first compartment search the president's staff and kennedy's secretaries are sitting there sobbing. just there jacqueline kennedy is sitting next to her husband but in the center compartment lyndon johnson sitting in the president's share there is an error of great -- we know what he is planning because he is making a list on little note pads on air force one with the heading air force one and he writes on one of them one staff and leadership and has to have a meeting with staff and a meeting with the cabinet immediately and
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the congressional leadership. we know about incidents that occurred during the flight. in one case just before it took off. lyndon johnson calls robert kennedy. these are two men who have hated each other all their lives. at the time kennedy is having lunch. he had a house in virginia called hickory hill. there is a long green lawn that slopes down. robert kennedy is sitting at a table with robert morgan who is the u.s. attorney for new york and two things happen simultaneously. i spoke to morgan. all of a sudden he saw the house being repainted. there was a guy on the ladder painting and all of a sudden hes the short wave radio transistor radio they called it then to his fear and comes, ladder and starts to run towards us as fast
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as he can and at that moment the telephone rings on the table on the other side of the swimming pool and ethel kennedy gets the answers and says to robert kennedy it is j. edgar hoover and it is hoover telling robert kennedy that his brother has been hit and probably killed. we know on this plane johnson went in to president kennedy's bed room and made a call to robert kennedy. he asks for details of being sworn in and the exact wording of the vote you should take as president. now you are saying is johnson taking revenge for all the humiliations that robert kennedy inflicted on him when he was vice president? was there some other motive? we don't know. i certainly don't know.
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robert kennedy puts in his deputy the digital nicholas katzenbach and he says any one of a hundred officials could ha johnson that information. i asked mary famer what were their voices like? she said nicholas katzenbach was like steel. robert kennedy's when he started but then it wasn't. then said to me he shouldn't have been talking on that call. not that lyndon johnson ever wanted all against robert kennedy. when the plane lands at andrews air force base he has made arrangements -- i should have
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said one of the things people in the cabin said was how in system johnson was that jacqueline kennedy be standing beside him while he took the oath because he wanted a symbol of continuity and she understood this too. when she doesn't come out johnson says why don't you go get her? o'donnell says the want to do it? she says for the sake of history i should. johnson wants the coffin to come off of the back door of air force one with himself and jacqueline kennedy behind and the kennedy aides and his aides so continuity. as the plane pulls up, at andrews air force base, the front door has a ramp go up to it and robert kennedy runs up the front ramp, pushes his way the length of the plane, pushes his way past lyndon johnson without ever looking at him and
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he goes down with jackie behind the coffin. we know that scene of the coffin coming down on the forklift and they drive off and the rams moved away. when johnson came to the back door of the plane he has no place to go. he has to stand waiting when the car carrying kennedy's body -- there are a hundred facts about that they that we all thought we knew but we didn't. at could help in an attempt to understand lyndon johnson. d of course in this book are far also to talk about the days right after this day. his first confrontation with congress which stopped kennedy so completely. what is on the agenda? a minor bill like an export/import bill related to a wheat deal with russia and some conservative republican senator from the midwest introduce an
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amendment to limit president's power and kennedy people are just prepared to let it go through. not johnson. he says i want that bill stopped. his exact words, i want that bill murdered. he doesn't just wanted defeated. the want to defeated by enough to show congress there's a new president now and you can't treat him the same way you were treating -- you can't treat me the way you treated him. he stays on -- he calls in his vote counter and they don't even know. they tell him there are certain number of votes but johnson is the greatest vote counter. he counts the votes and -- stays on the telephone making calls to senators and the bill is murdered. johnson writes in his memoirs at that moment the power of the federal government began flowing back to the white house and it
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did. the passage of power, is about how lyndon johnson back in the white house. what he does with that power once he has it back. the first forty days of the passage of power, passage of power from one president to another to jan. eighth, 1964. by the end of that time those 47 days, the passage is over. he has turned jack kennedy's build the personal the tax-cut bill, started all of them in the road to passage and january 8th is also the date of lyndon johnson's first state of the union speech in which he makes the presidency his own with his announcement that america is
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going to have a war on poverty. if we don't know them and we don't, not well enough known in history, are wonderful. too many americans live on the outskirts of hope and that is who we have to help. the more detail you learn about how johnson did it, what he did with congress and when he did to congress the more amazing the accomplishment seems. the civil-rights bill is dead. there is only one letter that the move forward. a parliamentary maneuver. i wrote in the book if there was only one where lyndon johnson was going to grab it and if there was only one letter he was going to push he was going to put all his weight behind it. all of a sudden the new york times writes something changed on capitol hill yesterday and
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the civil-rights bill starts to move. during this brief transition period, what i call the passage of power, lyndon johnson not only rescued his predecessor's program but launched one of his own, war on poverty. a war, a crusade for a noble end that would had it succeeded have transformed america. that is not the whole story of lyndon johnson's presidency, of course. there is another volume yet to come. [applause] >> vietnam is yet to come. the story of how the war on poverty and the many programs of the great society, the story of
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how the great dreams are to be submerged in vietnam is yet to come. what i tried to do in this volume, what i think we can see with a rare clarity in those 47 days by watching how lyndon johnson took hold of presidential power and so quickly began to use that power for ends so monumental was i think we can see is the immensity of the potential that and american presidents possesses to transform the country. thank you very much. [applause]
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>> i will be happy to take questions. >> in your books you talk a lot about the two sides of lbj, about the dark side and the light side. for example when president kennedy died he wrote such a moving condolence level but he could be so cool to his staff and lady bird. can you comment on that? >> did you hear the question? wonderfully well organized -- you can all hear the question. it is a rarity. johnson is that kind of a person. one of the real difficulties in writing about him. he is a person of such contrast that you feel his cruelty could be so cool and so monumental, the way he would break the rules of politics to steal the
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election that got him to the senate. quite a remarkable way. not at all usual -- beyond the usual bounds of politics. that is lyndon johnson. the desire to help more people, particularly for people of color. that was lyndon johnson also. >> what is your perspective on the writing of the assassination by the father of a former press secretary of president george w. bush? did you ever interview that offer? the father of scott mcclellan? >> i didn't interview him. all i can say about lyndon johnson's role in the assassination is in all my years of working on lyndon johnson's papers and going through his diaries and everything and all the people close to him i never found the slightest hint that he had everything to do with the
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assassination. >> mr. caro, lbj is well remembered as someone who was very adept at navigating the senate and working with congress as president to get some difficult things done. how well do you think he would do as president today getting things done with the very polarized environment? [applause] >> terrific question. it is hard to answer. part of the answer is the following. lyndon johnson became majority leader of the senate in 1955, the senate was and had been for decades -- let's put it that way -- taught to believe the same dysfunctional mess that it is today. bills couldn't get past because the power that confronted a president wasn't a party to
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this. wasn't republicans against democrats. it was interparty division. half of the democrats in the senate where southern democrats who were as conservative as can be imagined on civil rights and everything else and in that year, 1955, 16 great standing committees, the republicans were chairman of nine of them and senior committee post was stacked with them and subcommittees were headed buy them. they had stopped every president. no one seems to realize this but in the 25 years after the supreme court, when southern conservatives realized they and the midwestern republicans were on the same side and could control congress know president, franco low roosevelt or truman never got major domestic bill. johnson comes in and in an instant it is change and the
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senate is the center of governmental energy and creativity. the founding fathers wanted -- he is majority leader for six years. at the end of six years he leaves and the senate is back in the same mess. the nature of political genius is to find a way when no way appears obvious. i don't have any idea what president johnson would do with this congress. hopefully i can research and find out but someone will come along to do it again. >> one of the major events that occurred was the u.s. role in the overthrow -- johnson is on record in the cabinet meetings opposing it. can you elaborate on what particularly drove his stance and what particularly was it on that and why he believed the way
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he did on that point? one of the things he agreed with robert kennedy on. >> can i take a pass on that one question? it is at the beginning of the book i writing now. the answer is so complicated and i don't have a summation of it on my mind right now. >> can i go back and referred to your book you are talking about now? you alluded when you stated the united states was running murder and the the kennedy administration -- lyndon johnson said that -- knew he would get to robert kennedy and alluded to gm -- [talking over each other] >> johnson -- i don't want to be put in a position -- johnson did say that. in his retirement he said to the
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reporter the kennedys were running a murder incorporated down there in the caribbean. exactly what he -- documentation he had for that i don't know. >> he had a hand in killing him and it is happening here. >> that was quoted in the book. >> time for only one more question. thank you. >> thank you for your spellbinding reporting about lyndon johnson. [applause] >> can you elaboration little bit about his stance on civil rights before he was president and how he passed this landmark legislation and what the differences were and his outlook on that issue? >> elaborate on lyndon johnson's
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that's 7-stance on civil rights and -- his stance on civil rights -- glad you asked me that. people are always asking how sincere he was. i always felt lyndon johnson always wanted to help p people. i tell you why i think i know that. when johnson was in college between his sophomore and junior years he had to drop out of college to teach and he taught in a little town in south texas and he talked in the mexican school. it was really for the children of mexican migrant workers and johnson -- i rose in that book no teacher had ever cared if these kids learned or not. this teacher cared. he thought it was so important and he would spank the boys and tongue lash the girl that he heard a word in spanish. he would go among migrant worker shacks to get them so they

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